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Images of Women in European Art

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2657 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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John Berger is a critic of art, a novelist and a writer. He is also a painter. Berger is known for his book, “The G” which has won may awards. Berger is also known for his feature an art stick on “Ways of seeing”. He was born in England in 1926. He attended schools in England and then joined the army. His critic tradition stemmed while teaching drawing in London schools. After dropping from the army he avoided criticizing the Soviet Union but eventually his views of the same union became more acute. It is also beneficial to know that, in 1962, Berger drove himself out of Britain to a self imposed exile. The reason he exiled himself from Britain was because he had considered days in this country distasteful.

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The article “Images of women in European Art” is part of Berger’s book “Ways of Seeing”. In this book, Berger has made the reader see art in a different dimension. He argues that the view of the world is not similar with the way it actually is. He uses pictures and not words in first chapters to try to make readers see themselves in a different dimension.

An image of Women in European Art has different fallacies that portray the way he sees women in society. He argues in this article that women are sensuous objects that are there to arouse the male audience. He argues that there is a variance in being naked and being nude. Being naked is to be oneself but being nude is to be seen naked by other people. Berger asserts that women are inactive objects that are always available.

The article is, therefore, criticized in several ways because of its portrayal of women in the European art. In this article, John Berger reconstructs the way of seeing and attends to perspective and conventions for visual dialogue based on the peoples’ collective and personal belief constructs. He analyzes the origin of art and the way in which people look at art which he specifies are affected by a chain of learnt assumptions about truth, genius and civilization form. He deals with geometric perspective; the setting of a vanishing point in paintings and the way in which man was induced to believe, he was the center of the uniqueness in the world as the spectator. His discussion of perspective and man’s position, as a sole viewer with universal seeing power, informs his discussion of the inherent gender divisions initiated in early works of art. Not only was the viewer’s perspective god-like and all knowing, but it was overwhelmingly male. More specifically he demonstrates this point in reference to European art.

In the form, of European art, the spectator-owners and painters were always men and these men always saw women as objects. This unequal relationship is so deeply rooted in culture that it still shapes the consciousness of many women. Women in the society always see themselves in the manner in which men see them. They also treat themselves the way men treat them. They explore their own femininity. This is the chief legacy that he points out in this article. It also shapes the way in which the artists view women.

Berger was a painter and, therefore, most of his opinions stemmed from his paintings. He clearly distinguished himself as a painter. The paintings of nude women hanged on museum walls were considered as some form of immoral act. They were seen as images of sex. They were considered as images that were there to be used and violated.

The male nude forms of male paintings in museums had a different perspective according to Berger. He argued that in the past nude male paintings were seen as a way in which the imitated Christians messiah. They were seen as striving to be like Jesus. In today’s paintings, male nudity is seen as not a way of immoral act but as a form of strength. They are considered to be exuding some form of virility. In these present days’ women, pictures that are nude are seen as a phonographic. These present opinions stem from the past portrayal of women. The question is, is there a difference in a nude man and a nude woman. They are both nude. Why is the woman portrayed in a negative form then?

From the deep discussions of the past to the analysis of the present in the use of publicity images, Berger’s ideas about the social and beauty assumptions that inform the way we see are fundamental to understanding the image saturated environment and media consumed lifestyle. From art history, and the basics about the changing nature of perspective to spectator viewing and notions of intimacy revealed in European nudes and modern publicity images, promoting lifestyle and brand identities, Ways of Seeing is complete in its dissection of the complexities of the visual culture and comprehensive in its exploration of our reality.

Berger has played a role in modern female thinking by exploring how women are portrayed in classical painting and advertising. He takes on the subject so straightforwardly, taking into question the entirety of the women’s classical images. Berger’s conclusion and that of his interviewees are that the nude women’s paintings’ hanging in the best European museums is nothing more than pornography. The women in those paintings are nothing but objects that can be consumed or violated. He so forcefully speaks against this part of the western canon. However, Berger is not without faults. His appeal of oil paintings portrays them as the highest of visual forms. This may not be the case. In history, photography is somewhat fuzzy, but according to Berger, photography, as a work of art, was finding its way into the finest galleries and museums in the world. Photography is now in the same class with other visual forms of art as almost equal. Berger’s reliance on his own arguments and opinions, too, brings problems. In almost half of his arguments, he has not had a single female critic discussing the subject. Berger proficiently weaves the visual with discussions on the subject of the visual in clear-cut and jargon less language. He clearly presents his views making cautious observations about the visual without looking into art school discussion-style solipsism, ambiguity, tautology, or prevarication.

Berger also argues that judging women as beautiful is a way of an artist’s perspective. In Paris, a woman is judged by how beautiful she looks. Men are the ones who view and judge women as whether they are beautiful or not. This has been incorporated with judgment. A present is awarded to a woman who is tremendously beautiful. This judgment has given birth to what is normally considered like a beauty contest. Those women who are considered to be beautiful, gets the price, and those who are not, do not get any reward. This is how men have set standards for women to use in judging themselves. Does this mean that only women who are considered beautiful by men always win? Is it possible that there are other ways of judging women? Why is it that men are never evaluated in terms of their beauty? Women can also be evaluated a variety of other abilities and not how beautiful they are. There are women writers, painters who have excelled in this field and have won themselves prices (Berger, 1972).

The prizes to be won in beauty contests are owned by the judge. These judges are, in most cases, men. This means that women are available to them. It is also to say that these nude pictures have been placed to satisfy male urge and their desire to possess. Berger argues that, most of the nude paintings in museums have been hung to satisfy the sexuality of a man looking at the picture. Does it mean, then, that nude paintings are hung to satisfy the male sexuality only?

Berger also argues that the woman’s sexuality should be minimized so that the male audience has control of passion being exuded. He further says that women are there to fuel and feed the male’s appetite. Who will feed the woman’s appetite if it is only the male’s that has to be fed? It is hypocrisy that men paint nude pictures of women because they enjoy looking at them and then shove picture to the woman to look at her shame. This is condemning the woman whose picture he had painted to amuse himself. While men look at women, women also look at themselves the way men are looking at them thus making a double audience for themselves. They, therefore, look at themselves as intensely conscious of how they are presented and how they look in the male eyes. He says that a woman who looks at herself is considered as a narcissist while a man who looks at whatever he likes is considered an art connoisseur. Berger argues that only a person can turn someone into being nude.

This is taken a step further when Berger points out that the fan owner of a painting becomes the spectator owner of a representation of a woman; therefore, the spectator is depicted as the male and the nude image as the woman who is intended to flatter the man. Male spectators are applied in two ways in the following example that represents a picture: the exchange between Gerty and Bloom and the mention in the painting which was painted in the twentieth century. In Making a spectacle of Herself, Gerty MacDowell in the painting, Katherine Mullin Joyce’s; suggestive and arousal Gerty are compared to modest and sexually pure Flint of Cummins. She is seen like she is conscious of her beauty and her power to provoke the man’s attention, but, Flint is totally unconscious of her beauty. This device is used most of the times to pass on a message to young ones. The prude and modest Flint serves as the role model for youthful Irish women. Mullin states that her reward for her diffidence is her ultimate marriage to her childhood darling. On the other hand, the sexually open and provoking Gerty is left at the end not married. Why is it, then, that men paint pictures of nude women and later on condemns them? In this example, a naked woman was not married later. It is true even to date that those women who are portrayed as naked in the websites or televisions are rarely married. This is because men believe that they have exposed their nudity in a truly sinful way. Why then did they paint these pictures if they were not destroying the moral reputation of women?

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Berger’s discussions of nakedness are taken further when he asserts that, in western Christian art, nakedness of male is a symbol of a struggle to be more like Christ, while that of female symbolizes lust and sin. The male nudity is, therefore, closer to perfection than that of female. The discussions by Miles, about Adam and Eve, are based on this argument, emphasizing that Eve’s believed guilt in the fall of man and her creation from the body of Adam have been conventionally treated as the reasons of Eve’s weakness to Adam. If Eve is a representation of every woman, her imperfections speak to the common limitation of women and their shared sinfulness.

Based on Berger’s Miles views, the treatment of all women by Christianity as potential witches and the credence of their expected vulnerability to evil are seen as unfairness paid to the depiction of women. There is, therefore, a great reason for the need of a new form of feminist art.

Representation of women according to Berger has fallen victim to two systems a) The use of their bodies to provoke the male gaze and the ultimate objectification of women b) The aversive and negative treatment in western Christianity.

The two systems are crucial factors that have contributed to the agenda approach used in art, literature, and on screens – major types used in gender depiction, which was created by men for themselves. When these are examined, the hidden agenda in representation is exposed, and it sparks one of the most castigatory actions to sexual category politics: women discontinue watching the men in suits and embark on their own representation.

In the Judgment of Paris, a story presumably originated by men, starts by displaying the, vanity of female: a dispute of three goddesses over their individual beauty triggers the meeting with Paris, the inducement and the consequences. Then their characters are with vindictiveness and conceit fleshed out, so there is no way that a safe decision can be made by Paris, let alone one that is just. The goddesses are blamed for all of it. Yet this story gives possibilities for the artist (who is not apprehensive with blame) to scrutinize the relationships between power and sexuality. Supposedly, as Berger suggests, Paris and other male viewers have the authority of judgment over the female beauty, but inside the world of the story, the real authority is with the goddesses.

In the after effects the argument at Troy was about goddesses who were always responsible for the defeats and victories of men, by their unswerving divine intervention. The goddess’s divinity has been artistically represented in various ways. Cranach decided to make their figures bright, but also weak and wife like. They are then infused with vigor by Reuben, but they are on display clearly, for us, as well as for Paris. The figures for Raphael are extremely powerful. They are nude; a world that is naked and filled with parity, but none of the representations undoubtedly represents the power of the power of goddesses over Paris to the level that is achieved by Watteau. The iconographic essentials are in this picture just as they are in Cranach and Raphael. Paris is shown sitting on the lower part of the picture before the key form of Aphrodite. Athena is on the right, and she is already dressed.

Hera is retreating at the top of the picture and is followed by Peacock, having said all these. The picture is quite contrary in its components from any that had gone before this because it is representing a valuable genius in this painting; the power of Paris is utterly destroyed. Paris almost cowers, and the way she puts her hands humbly over her head is not a gesture of a judge who is conferring an accolade but that of a supplicant making a submission. Athena and Hera see this too with Hera conceding already and Athena appearing to be shielding herself from the power of the winning goddess. The situation is more intricate that this, for the power that Aphrodite has is openly sexual. All attention is on her as she disrobes (except for Hermes’ – turned away, of course). However, all that can be observed by the spectators in the representation is her lower half. Cupid makes sure that Paris gets a clear view of the genitals of Aphrodite’s, and that, it seems that it is enough to secure her victory.

Berger considers nudity as a process and not an act. The question is what process? A European humanism, which tried to view nakedness in terms of individuality, argued that nudity should be arrived at by piecing different parts of the body. The reason for this argument is that painting pictures of nude women is a personal interest. There are parts, that he likes most, and, therefore, will want those parts painted for him.


Berger’s representation of these facts about women; can be generalized as fallacies that try to define nudity of women. It is not fair that Berger has these opinions on women. The nude presentation of women poses several discussions on whether women are quite sensual objects that are just there for the amusement of men. The techniques, which Berger has used, are not a fair representation of women. Contrary to Berger’s believes, women are not passive in the society and are not sexual symbols. The oil paintings of naked people of whether male or female constitute nudity and should be viewed in the same way as nudity in women is viewed.


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